By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
During the administration of Ronald Reagan (R) the United States Navy had a force of over 600 ships. Decades of budget cuts to defense capabilities due to the growth in entitlements has shrunk that force to less than 300 ships. Last week Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) announced that even today’s much smaller Navy is about to get smaller if the administration has its way. Among the many cuts announced by Sec. Hagel is a reduction in the number of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to be ordered by the Navy.
On Thursday, March 6, 2014, U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R) questioned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the proposed cuts in a House Armed Services Committee hearing on “The Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense.”
Secretary Hagel said that although he had ordered a reduction in the order of LCS ships, the vessel could be modified in such a way that would meet capability and lethality requirements to allow it to continue beyond the order of 32 ships.
Secretary Hagel admitted that the Commander of the Pacific fleet, the Secretary of the Navy, and Chief of Naval Operations had all expressed support for the ship. The U.S. Navy’s proponents for the ship said that there was no need to spend billions of dollars redesigning a ship when there are existing systems like the LCS we can use.
Rep. Byrne said: “I appreciate the testimony of Secretary Hagel before the House Armed Services Committee today. Clearly, the LCS can be retained in a modified form and continue beyond the original order of 32 ships. This testimony will strongly support our case as we continue fighting to preserve the LCS program.”
Sec. Hagel announced that DOD was poised to cut the LCS order by 20 ships from its original order of 52. This ship is manufactured in part by Austal USA from its facility in the Port of Mobile, employing roughly 4,000 residents of South Alabama.
Congressman Byrne said: “I am committed to using every avenue possible to fight for these jobs represented by the Navy contracts at Austal in Mobile. As the Secretary of the Navy himself stated, this ship has the potential to become ‘the backbone of the future fleet’ with its varied capabilities, relative low cost to manufacture, and low cost to operate
Representative Byrne said, “We cannot allow the livelihoods of thousands of South Alabama families and the future of the United States Navy to hang in the balance over an arbitrary decision from the Administration. The President and Secretary of Defense need to understand the deep ramifications their actions could have, placing the Navy’s procurement program a decade behind schedule and causing families across shipbuilding regions like South Alabama to lose their jobs.”
The Independence-class LCS has a top speed of 44 knots, carries a crew of just 40 sailors, and can be specially configured for mine sweeping, sub hunting, operating unmanned aerial vehicles, operating helicopters, and can support Marine or Special forces operations. The cost is $704 million each, although the original navy estimate was that the LCS would cost just $220 million each. The smaller lighter LCS can operate in shallower waters closer to shore, the “littoral combat zone,”
The U.S. Navy plans had called for building 55 LCSs with the first twenty being ten each of the Independence-class and Freedom-class.